SEO Web Design | Best Practice in Website Design for SEO

SEO Web design (conceptual image)
SEO Web design ideas

When considering a new SEO-centric web design, or the redesign of an older site, there are multiple elements to be considered. Despite the paradigm shift in internet marketing strategies in recent years, search engine rankings are STILL critical to overall success. Designing your site to achieve good Search and New Zealand Map 3-Pack placement in Google et al makes a lot more sense than completely ignoring that aspect! When it goes live, a website should already have search engine optimisation applied. In the process of website development, there is often a conflict between the form (design) and the function (SEO).

A website bereft of visitor traffic is about as much use as nipples on a bull. To attain a reasonable return on investment (ROI) all websites must generate the highest possible amounts of “free” traffic. A prerequisite design criterion is the generation of “qualified traffic.” Defined as possible clients who require what you offer, and who landed on your website because it was pertinent to their search query. This occurs as a consequence of your pages showing in both the organic Search and Local Search maps result pages.

Website promotion services

In addition to natural/organic rankings, you may also receive traffic from:

  • Traditional hard-copy advertising
  • Newsletters
  • Business cards & stationary
  • PPC (pay-per-click) campaigns on search engines via Yahoo Search Marketing and Google Adwords. (This is not “free” visitor traffic due to incremental costs in initiating its flow.)

Ranking helps establish Brand recognition and if you are in the Top 10 on search results there is an underlying credibility factor in your favour. Natural search results deliver a higher click-through rate than paid advertisements.

The elements outlined here are all sections incorporated in serious search engine optimisation projects as part of Web Design for SEO. These should be included in the site development. The major search engines consider many elements in their ranking algorithms. The more you can get correct, the more impressive are the benefits. Essentially, you set out to clearly and accurately define what your website is about.

Product-centric Focus

Accurate and descriptive of what it is you are selling… Aim all content and copy at ensuring that potential customers know that you have it available.

Domain & URL Structure

Building a site with a logical and easily indexed structure is important. Domain names, category names and file names all contribute to success or failure. A bit of help from an expert business SEO consultant can help significantly.

Choose a Domain Name for SEO

Getting relevant keyword research done is important when you choose a Domain Name because it can help rankings! E.g.  but strike a balance between including multiple important keywords and the headache of typing in long URLs.

The general consensus is to not separate words with hyphens; e.g. is not as good as SEO experts suggest caution with the hyphens. Some say 1 is enough, but I know of many sites that rank well with 3 words…

Internal Page / File Names

It assists descriptive accuracy when you include keywords in the site’s internal page file names, e.g. The more clues you can give to the search engines regarding the content of a page, the easier it is for the SEs to rank it. Just don’t overdo it or the reverse outcome will be yours to savour.

Image Names

Accurate descriptive image file names e.g. gourmet-hawaiian-pizzas.jpg is better than DSC-00011.JPG

Accurate keywords within image file names will not be ignored and will usually gain you some additional traction.

Search engines index image files and it is, therefore, useful to give all your image files descriptive names. Some traffic will be generated this way, so you might maximise the opportunity.

Optimisation Issues

There are many items to be considered in building a website to rank highly on today’s search engines.

Content links; provide text links to internal pages from within the Home page. Anchor text that uses primary keywords judiciously, linked to an optimised page that has relevant information, will score you brownie points. Pages with direct links from the Home page are also accorded a higher value – and those should in turn be cross-linked to other pages.

Site map page; ensure you have a text link on the Home page to a site map page which has a text HTML link to every internal page. Spiders seldom rank pages that are deeper than 3 levels. This tactic ensures all pages are accessible at no more than 3 levels deep.

JavaScript Issues

Anything contained within JavaScript is pretty much invisible to search engine spiders. A nice JavaScript menu can be a thing of beauty but it destroys the internal indexing structure! The links to internal pages within that menu will not be seen by Googlebot and other spiders. This has a serious negative impact on indexing and prevents “page rank” from being passed downwards and sideways throughout the website. That’s counter-productive at best, and crippling at worst!

Use JavaScript sparingly – and only where essential.

Use an external file and “call” your JavaScript applications instead of adding them to the pages. This is more efficient and, where a change is required, means editing one file instead of dozens of pages.


Don’t use Flash to build a website! Only use it to add content you don’t want search engines to index… There are no benefits to Flash and plenty of compelling reasons to avoid it. Animations should only be used if they serve a clearly defined purpose! Perhaps to establish a concept, or to tell a story. Images should be kept small, and file sizes small to avoid slow-loading penalties.

Visitor attention spans are short and we want fast page load times. Flash is slow-loading, content is not readily indexed, and maintenance is both complex and costly. Flash sucks… its time has passed.


Frames are an archaic solution to a forgotten problem. They are disastrous to search engine rankings because search engines cannot access the internal page content. Were search engines able to index internal pages, there would be no page menus, headers and footers, making navigation a confusing experience. Don’t let your website developer use FRAMES under any circumstances!

Splash Pages

There was a trend by website designers to have a “splash” page entry to the Home page. Whilst that might have been a very nice animated Flash graphics introduction, and it might have looked nifty it was deadly to rankings.

Never permit your web designer to use a splash page that forces your users to “click to enter the site!” It’s annoying enough the first time and irritates people enough to reduce their enthusiasm to return.

A “Splash” page is like the box-within-the-box type of present – really amusing for the guy who duct-taped up the boxes but damned irksome for these people trying to get inside to read the information they are seeking.
Splash pages are often a monolith to the designer’s artistic talents but provide no functional merit within the site itself.

Databases vs HTML Text

How times change… a few short years ago, the only CMS options were Joomla and Drupal, clunky behemoths that made doing the simplest things a huge effort.

These days the best approach to building a website from an SEO perspective is to use a modern CMS such as WordPress. For most “small business websites” this is the fastest platform on which to create a modern, robust and high-ranking site.

Modern database-driven sites make it easy to produce unique pages – with search-engine-friendly URLs, individual titles, descriptions and headings that are easy to maintain. Databases were once infamous for impenetrable URLs – any URL having a “?” or “&” in it makes life difficult for search engine spiders trying to index internal content. Those days are well behind us!

Database-driven CMS sites s are often promoted on the “ease of maintenance” grounds, isolating users from making site-wide errors. A design template ensures layout, fonts and colours are replicated across all pages. One change on a style sheet is reflected across all pages.

Page Layout

Keep web design simple. There are some basic rules to be observed that will ensure the best results in search engine rankings. These can conflict with the site designer’s view of the world, and you need to make informed decisions when/if compromises are to be made.

The search engines place the greatest emphasis on content above the fold – including the 1st heading or title, and the 1st paragraph. Your Topic keywords should be there, but be careful to write for a human reader, and not for Google. Use a narrow header holding a company logo, common to every internal page.

Menu navigation is really important so make sure all your “money pages” about the services or products are prominent in the menu.

Follow this with a Title/Heading in H1 style to emphasise its importance, and contain the targeted keyword phrase. Follow this with an accurate, explicit and descriptive first paragraph, containing the targeted keyword phrase close to the beginning. If possible, using an iteration or variation of the primary keyword phrase as the anchor text, add links to internal pages containing additional information.

Some search engines will look for the first iteration of the search phrase, and include a portion of the paragraph as their search engine page results for the search. It’s therefore important to provide good page copy.

Website Content Issues

Content is still king and to achieve and maintain top rankings you need good website content that is easily indexed. This means a series of verbose and comprehensive pages, possibly in a hierarchical structure and usually including;

  • Business Products & Services written as helpful content for human readers
  • Contact form for potential clients to contact you, with email, phone and business address
  • Web Links & Resources – a list of sites which may interest to your clients
  • Sitemap in XML format for search engines and in HTML format for visitors
  • About Us – a company outline that conforms to E-E-A-T concepts
  • News, Reviews,
  • Testimonials
  • Business Location Map
  • Opening Hours
  • Rates / Fees / Charges

To achieve good rankings for an internal page, you will need 500-1,000 words outlining the topic. Google is intent on rewarding authentic, original, useful and comprehensive content…

Build yourself a lot of unique pages with 800+ words apiece, targeting different Topics (as distinct from keywords/phrases) on each page. Now you’ve got some substance for the SEs to work with.  Don’t target the same topic on multiple pages because you’d be foolishly competing with yourself… Google will not allow multiple pages from the same site to dominate SERPs…

Other SEO Support Topics

Incoming links to your site are a crucial element of the search engine ranking game and are especially important on Google. Since 2012, links have become a very sharp, double-edged sword. Get it wrong, you will be bleeding profusely from Google penalties. Get it right and you will be shielded from harm and rewarded with rankings.

Link quality is crucial. Uninhibited link quantity is NOT a good thing any more… Excessive keywords in anchor text will consign your site to oblivion. Carefully sourced citation links that underpin your local search optimisation strategy are both best and safest.

Review 3-4 of the local business directories in your area of operation. See which ones rank well and get listed on them even if it costs you a few $ annually to do so.

Geographic/Location Searches

Searchers refine their query with multiple words, frequently using location e.g. “pizza food delivery London” or “hotel accommodation Alberta.” If your business is city / suburb-specific, ensure that’s reflected in your site’s content. Effective web design for Local Search must include the city, suburb, address, and postal code in the footer of all pages. A local search consultant will help you there.

Search engines also weight”location” as an indexing element that enables increased relevancy searches, in particular geographic locations.

HTML Code Errors

Produce error-free HTML code. Validate this online, there are plenty of services available. Tell your web designer that this is a prerequisite.

Boost WordPress page speed

Everyone hates slow websites. Instruct your designer that speed is of the essence. Load speed affects both rankings and user experience. Boost your WordPress website speed with premium caching plugins, image optimisation AND a very fast design theme platform such as Generatepress, Kadence, Astra or Neve.

AVOID 3rd party page builders!!! WordPress has an excellent built-in page builder (Gutenberg) and you really don’t need to use Elementor, WP Bakery, Oxygen, Beaver Builder and the like… Literally, there’s no need to do that and it’s counter-productive if your focus is speed and user experience.

I’ve been building websites for 20 years. I would rather stab myself in the eye with a screwdriver than use Elementor. People do love it, I give you that… but seriously? It is a clunky piece of crap and makes it VERY difficult to do many of the things WordPress does with ease. Give us examples, I hear you sneer…

  1. Ok, so imagine you’ve got a site built by an amateur and the page URLs need to be changed for better SEO outcomes. The “Redirection” plugin happily notes your changes and adds the redirects. But what about those internal content links on all the pages across the site? Well, DAMN! Gotta fix ALL those manually, one by one on every page… The usual “Search & Replace” simple doesn’t work because Elementor stores all content as serialized data. WTF?
  2. This means if you decided you’d quite like to switch away from Elementor, you’ve also got a bit of a problem to overcome. The Elementor JSON data structure is used to store the configuration and content of a page created with Elementor. It is a serialized representation of the page’s layout and its settings. Turn off Elementor and it all turns to custard.

There’s literally no easy way to convert Elementor-built pages to normal WordPress pages. If the pages are not too complex, you will have all the images and text and you can manually set it out again in WP blocks. If a page has a complex layout – such as a Services page in a grid format – you will have the proverbial dog’s breakfast left on the page.

Of course, it’s even worse if you also used Elementor Pro…

“Page builders use their own set of shortcodes, templates, and styling options to create the design and layout of your pages.When you delete the page builder plugin, the specific elements and features provided by the page builder will no longer be available. As a result, your pages will lose their intended design and formatting. They will at best revert to a basic layout, with some content appearing differently or being removed altogether.”

3rd Party page builders typically store the design information in their own database tables or custom post types within your WordPress installation. This is generally not “a good thing” to deal with.

My advice, based on over 20 years of design experience, is to use Gutenberg. There are plenty of good reasons for that recommendation.

How to Choose a Web Designer

With an appreciation of the design goals outlined, you can set out a design brief and then circulate it to several designers and ask for project cost estimates.

Refine the list to a group of 3 potential designers from the preliminary response to your design brief. Discuss your web design for SEO project objectives with them, ensuring that they comprehend your objectives. Redefine the plan, and refine costs.

A “fixed price contract” requires that each of you fully understand what is to be done. Amendments requested by you are obviously a variation to the plan and are usually made at additional cost. All amendments must be requested in writing, with a cost quote by the developer, and agreed to by both parties.

Website Maintenance

WordPress website management is a key issue. There will be ongoing changes and you should determine how that will be done and at what cost. Many of my clients use WordPress which has excellent facilities for site maintenance and gets the job done quickly.

Maintenance becomes an issue for many, either from a technical or lack of time perspective. Usually, the task does not require a full-time webmaster, but there are not always skilled staff available to handle the task. Your site designer will usually offer to do maintenance for you, and there are also “contract webmasters” available to assist.

10 Design Rules…

  1. No “Flash” or “Splash” pages
  2. Avoid “FRAMES”
  3. Use a good CMS like WordPress
  4. Simple layout
  5. Easily indexed, comprehensive menu structure
  6. Unique Pages – every page has a different title, description, Topic and keyword targets
  7. Modest graphics use
  8. No gratuitous Coding Errors are required…
  9. Minimise JavaScript – use “include” scripts to minimise embedded code
  10. Mobile-responsive essential


Page last updated on Wednesday, October 11, 2023 by the author Ben Kemp